In 2000, the Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation funded a multi-centre project examining the therapeutic potential of HSCs in MS, referred to as the Canadian Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) trial. The trial was led by Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Outcomes of the trial revealed patients who experienced highly aggressive, treatment-adverse MS were relapse free for up to two years following chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation, as indicated by clinical examination and brain MRI scans.
Dr. Amit Bar-Or and his team from the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University conducted follow-up immunological studies to better understand the newly produced immune cells in the treated individuals. Data from this work, published in 2012 in Annals of Neurology, found a marked decrease in levels of a specific type of immune cell known as Th17 cells compared to levels before treatment. Researchers suggest that the absence of new relapsing disease activity following BMT may be associated with diminished Th17 cell activity, which fits well with the idea that Th17 cells are considered ‘gatekeepers’ to the CNS and thus facilitate the entry of harmful cells into the brain. The researchers are conducting follow-up experiments to determine whether the positive outcomes observed will be sustained over a long period of time.